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Pruning Fruit Trees

pruning sheers and gardening equipment on a table

This episode of The Green Thumb originally aired on March 1, 2019.

This is Teryl Roper, extension pomolgist at Utah State University. Now is a good time to prune fruit trees. The coldest part of the winter has passed and the fruit trees are still dormant.

Fruit trees need pruning every year to keep the trees healthy and to encourage the growth of new fruiting wood that is essential to ongoing production. However, very old trees or trees that have been neglected for years should be considered for total removal.

As you prune, the first objective should be to create a canopy of leaves that are well illuminated. Sunlight needs to be able to reach every leaf on the tree. No part of the canopy should be more than three feet from the edge of the tree. If possible, the top of the tree should be narrower than the bottom of the tree. This avoids the top of trees shading lower portions of trees.

Remove branches that are crossing or touching. Remove branches that are pendant or growing from the under side of other branches. These will always be shaded. Remove spindly branches and any branches that are diseased or damaged. It is preferable to remove entire branches back to their point of origin than to remove only a portion of the branch. These cuts cause less regrowth.

Peaches need to be heavily pruned. Peaches bear fruit on one-year-old branches, so these need to be generated every year. Remove small caliper branches and branches on the under side of limbs. Think about how many peaches you want at harvest and prune heavily as part of the thinning process. As you prune, step back a few paces and take a good look at the tree. Is the canopy still dense and shaded? Will light be able to illuminate every branch? The mistake most people make is to prune too lightly rather than not enough.

For more information about pruning fruit trees, check out the fact sheets at